Lead into Gold: contradiction to despair #10

I made it around the little lake as dusk fell. My old legs wanted to give in, but then a piano started up a familiar intro on shuffle. What was this song? I knew it would play me home – Van Morrison Philosopher’s Stone. (See end note)

Years before, recovering from major surgery, I sat in the Starbucks across from Culver City Studio in L.A., listening to this song. The Harry Potter movie of that name had just been released from Sony, just down Washington Blvd. I still hadn’t emerged from pain and weakness of the operation and, it must be said, the terror of a second cancer diagnosis.

Was it really possible to be an alchemist and turn this lead of suffering into gold, I wondered.

Morrison sings that even his best friends they don’t know that he’s searching for the philosopher’s stone. He’s out on the highway and the byways in the cold and snow, alone and relentlessly searching.

In the years that followed, I caught glimpses of that magical mineral, but foolish me, I had no idea that, when it came to lead,  I was ignorant – I knew nothing.

A decade later, I got a crash course. It involved emergency rooms, sudden trans-continental flights, first responders on multiple occasions, several hospitals, many, many doctors and pharmaceuticals, bureaucracy enough to break your heart, intense fear and terrible despair.

It’s a hard road/It’s a hard road, Daddyo/ When my job is turning lead into gold.

Then this week nearly six years later, we raised our heads at last. That the patient would survive the ongoing disease, we had known for a while, That the patient had relearned how to function in the everyday world despite catastrophic losses, we also knew, What we recently discovered is altogether more wonderful. The person we almost lost, through the agency of this enormous suffering, has become the person she always wanted to be.

Concise Oxford Dictionary: The philosopher’s stone – supreme object of alchemy, substance supposed to turn other metals to gold or silver

One of a series of contradictions to despair 115journals.com




What I Learned at the Airport

Not taken at 6:30 on a Monday!

Not taken at 6:30 am on a Monday!

Toronto Pearson Airport 6:30 a.m, a Monday. The septuagenarian hobbit is about to learn a lot.

Lesson 1: The physics of a rolling object 1.0.. The new large roller suitcase isn’t as easy to roll as they claim. The carry-on rolls better. The bigger problem is how to co-ordinate two rolling bags.

Lesson 2: Times change 1.0. I’m already checked in on-line. I’ve already paid for my checked bag. What the –? I have to print my own baggage tags. Do the check-in kiosks do  that? The very tall man in front of me, who hasn’t checked in yet – how old school- assures me they do. Then an attendant, one of a rare breed, identifies me as old. Helps me flatten my passport, sticks the baggage tag on, scans it and send me off to find the E entrance.

Lesson 3: The physics of rolling objects 2.0. Should have got a push trolley. E is half a kilometer away. The big bag weighs at least 23 kilograms.

Lesson 4: Patience 1.0. There are at least 1000 people in the U.S. customs hall. They are all ahead of me.

Lesson 5: How to Queue. By spreading my feet and doing a high sit into my hips, I can keep from fainting in the dense, winding line. Tearing off the coat, scarf and tam I have worn against Toronto weather helps as well, as does chatting to the people behind and in front.

Lesson 6: Times Change 2.0. Eventually, I arrive at  another kiosk which also wants to read my passport and again, I have to flatten it with both hands. Then on to the next line with a real human being at the end.

Lesson 7: Times change 3.0. American Customs and Immigration officers have mellowed. In 2002, I was almost denied entry. I had family in the U.S. and it was felt I was going to stay. I bit my tongue and did not say, “As if.” I said that if I did, I would lose all my benefits. She let me through. Today I am asked if I am having a good day.

Lesson 8: Patience 2.0. At the security check, I am behind an older couple and their adult son. (They are probably younger than me.) Totally emptying his pockets is too much for the old guy. He thinks that’s an imposition. His wife puts her smart pumps in the bin. The next thing I hear is, I have to take my shoes off too.” He steps through the metal detector which sounds its alarm. The officer tells him to step back. He is told to go through his pockets again. He is wearing cargo pants. He fishes out a wad of paper. He steps through again and again. Same result. I stand waiting for my turn. The officer uses the wand which squawks many times. I want to shout,” He has metal knee replacements.” I don’t. Dad is moved over to stand on a black square, facing the wall. Mom is stood on a second square beside him. A female officer joins the fray and both desperadoes are carefully patted down. Nothing. I pass through the metal detector. Dad is standing at the conveyor built, which is standing still. “My money’s in there,” he cries. Mine too, Dad. A second invigilator arrives. Much study ensues. Son has moved Dad back to sit in a chair. Mom stands beside him. “My shoes,” cries Dad as the belt starts moving. “Dad’s shoes,” Mom cries. “Get Dad’s shoes!” I pick them up and turn to Son, saying,”Dad’s shoes.” As I reassemble myself and claim all the valuables I have in the world, I hear, “Flashlight. It was a flashlight.” Right, can’t have seen many of those before.

Lesson 9: Perspective. The tall, rangy West Indian guy who lifts my checked bag onto the belt, makes up a special song to wish me on my way.

Lesson 10: Patience 3.0. The line at Starbucks is 20 passengers, 4 pilots long.

Lesson 11: How to count. My gate is F34. I set off on the moving sidewalks, pulling the carry-on bag. Near the end, it occurs to me that F34 is not going to come after F80. The moving sidewalk says, “Do not enter”. I need to hurry. It is boarding time. I begin to trot back – “boats beating against the current” (F. Scott Fitzgerald), but I am working up a good sweat, so it isn’t all bad.

Lesson 12: Self-worth. I am finally seated in 18D. A woman is in 18F at the window. She gets to see the Grand Canyon . I get to pee. We are both praying no one will claim 18E. He is the last person to board. He is 6’4″ with the weight to go with it. As he folds himself into his seat, he says, “I tried to switch to an aisle seat but couldn’t.” And can’t now, I observe to myself. Age before beauty.

ac 321


Bitter and Slow: part 1 bitter greens

No not my personality!

Recently, my morning paper, read “Adult taste buds in a bitter retreat” subtitled “Sweet tooth overindulgence exacerbating picky palates”. (National Post, Sat. Oct. 13, 2012. Unfortunately this particular article is not available online.) In it Elizabeth Hames examines the apparent trend of adults reverting to  more childish tastes for sweets, as evidenced by the milky sweet concoctions available at Starbucks such as Frappuccino. Even beer is getting sweeter. And in Britain, it is now possible to buy Supersweet Broccoli, a Scottish- grown variant, touted by one chain store as benefitting pregnant women. The consumption of bitter leafy greens has declined there by 11%. In the U.S. grapefruit growers are going out of business.

Children, as you may remember from your own experience, have to develop a taste for bitter. It used to happen in the natural order of things that our tastes buds grew more refined, so that as adults we might have come to like the taste of olives, black coffee, hops in beer and martiniis as well as broccoli and its ilk. Apparently, this trend can be traced to the declining cost of sugar, due in part to the U.S. subsidies for corn growers and cheap availability of high fructose corn syrup.

“By abandoning refined tastes we eaters may actually be exacerbating the pickiness of our palates. Eating fewer flavourful foods, including certain types of produce, is believed to be creating a widespread deficiency in zinc, a flavour-enhancing mineral… That means it takes us longer to satisfy our flavour threshold which is when our brains determine we’ve had enough to eat.”

I was converted to bitter, leafy greens during a spell of bad health 25 years ago. One of the stories that convinced me was this one: newly trained doctors looking for a place to set up practice in Germany in the 19th century would go from town to town and they never chose to settle in a town where people were growing kale in their gardens. I believe that the health I enjoy today is in part of the result of eating kale and other bitter leafy greens almost every day since I heard that.

Not all bitter greens need to be cooked and even some that need to be cooked can be eaten in salads when young. Recipes from older cookbooks may advise long periods of boiling, I suppose, to make them more palatable to unrefined palates, but I just steam mine for a few minutes, more or less, more for more mature leaves, especially if I am also cooking the ribs. The longest I steam them would be 5 min., usually less. I serve them with a little olive oil and salt, or sometimes balsamic vinegar, oil and salt. Sauteeing in oil at the end or throughout also works. Some people roast kale to make chips.

Here is a partial list of bitter, leafy greens: argula, Belgian endive, beet greens, chard,chicory, cress, collard greens, endive, dandelion, kale, black kale, dinosaur kale, mustard greens, radicchio, rapini, spinach, watercress, rocket.

Of course, we are all already eating some of them and we know that oil and salt or salt substitute make them tasty and vinegar doesn’t hurt. In general, the hardier the leaf the more nutrients it provides. Many of us, who are  lactose intolerant, rely on them for calcium as do vegans. http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/calcium.htm

I add kale to stews for the last few minutes, adding new leaves when I heat up the leftovers, a particularly good way to eat it as the days grow colder. And of course I can add it or chard to my green soup. (See Green Soup posted July 28.)

Next I will consider the slow cooking I like to do especially at this time of the year. It fills the house with delicious smells that banish negativity and suit weak digestions.